If you’re visiting the Netherlands, you must head from Amsterdam to Haarlem, a typically “Dutch” city. Haarlem is a very easy day trip from Amsterdam, only fifteen minutes on the train. This iconic Dutch city with pretty canals, fewer tourists, a laid-back vibe, and gorgeous architecture is a must-see for people who have limited time in the Netherlands. Keep reading for what to do in Haarlem with a complete one day in Haarlem itinerary (and map). At the bottom, there’s a more complete list of things to do in Haarlem.
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Most people come to Haarlem only for one day, which is a shame as this is a gorgeous city with more than you realize… and it’s that close to Amsterdam. If you’re clever like my parents, you’ll find an affordable hostel or hotel in Haarlem for a fraction of the cost of Amsterdam and use Haarlem as your base to explore Amsterdam. I’m packing in a full day in Haarlem, so if you’re only taking a day trip from Amsterdam to Haarlem, you can really see the best of the city. It’s also possible to do a half day in Haarlem combined with going to the tulip fields in the Netherlands. I include hotel recommendations for Haarlem at the bottom.
One day in Haarlem
This Haarlem itinerary is entirely on foot, so you can follow it to see most of the main sights in Haarlem. I’ll leave it up to you if you choose to go inside the attractions. Half the fun of Haarlem is walking around the beautiful sights. Most of the things to do in Haarlem can be enjoyed from the exterior, so if you’re more interested in walking around, this will help you figure that out. I include a self-guided walking tour of Haarlem with a map at the bottom. FYI, the neighborhood in New York City (Harlem) was named for this beautiful city in the Netherlands!
Breakfast near the Station
Westhoff is a cozy coworking space and cafe that serves up a mean latte (that is vegan-friendly). The atmosphere is quiet yet charming. I always pick up a fresh pastry and a soy latte when I pass by the station when I arrive in Haarlem.
Molen De Adriaan
From the station, follow the path below to reach the water. From here, you’ll be able to view Molen De Adriaan, the iconic windmill of Haarlem. Although it’s not the original one (it burned down), this wooden windmill has stood in the same place since the 1700s.
Optional: Rent a boat at Club Spaarne
Although most tourists visiting Haarlem for one day take a boat tour of Haarlem, most don’t know that you can rent your own boat for an hour. At Club Spaarne, we paid 25 euros (2018) for a one hour boat ride around Haarlem that we piloted ourselves. They provide an easy-to-follow map for the amount of time that goes in a perfect loop. It’s so relaxing and fun to do this and it’s cheaper than a canal cruise if you’re with a couple people. You’ll feel like such a pro when you’re boating past the canal boat tours! Bring cash.
From the water, head inwards towards Bakenessergracht. This area of Haarlem with its narrow canal and cute houses is just one of my favorites to explore. I love trying to find my way out as I head to center.
The Teylers Museum is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands and it is really fascinating for those interested in history. What I love about the Teylers Museum, besides its wooden interior, is its commentary on how we look at science historically. The museum maintains the original ordering of the pieces according to what scientists at the time of its founding thought was the same age. As a result, you have dinosaur bones next to random objects far older/younger than them. Although a lot of people bring their kids here, I think the Teylers Museum is a great intellectual museum. The hofje in the middle is charming as well.
Lunch at Hofje Zonder Zorgen
This former hofje serving up reasonable organic food is in a picturesque setting: a historic hofje. Situated within a 15th century building (Proveniers Hofje), this cafe is a great place to experience one of the many hofjes that dot the Netherlands. Hofjes were historic courthouses with almshouses built into them. Those in need would live within the hofje although there were typically restriction on who could live there. The hofjes in Haarlem are particularly well known for being well-maintained.
Walk around the center of Haarlem
One of the great joys of visiting Haarlem, which is why it’s so quinessially “Dutch”, is that Haarlem has a compact and beautiful city center with cafes to enjoy. Unlike Amsterdam where you’ll be overrun by crowds in the center, you can just sit, relax, and enjoy the slower pace of Haarlem. I think this is why everyone I know loves Haarlem (and many other Dutch cities outside of Amsterdam.)
De Grote of St. Bavokerk te Haarlem
It’s impossible to miss Haarlem’s main cathedral. It’s 2.50 to get into the cathedral, which is impressive inside. This church dates back to medieval times (1300s) and its particularly impressive to catch organ performances on its eye-catching organ taking back to the 1600s. During the summer, there are free organ performances, so check the website for more information.
There’s nothing like heading to Grote Markt to admire Haarlem’s center. This town hall used to be used for the counts of Haarlem’s palaces in the 12th century, but only a few things remain. Much of the town square has been the same for many centuries, so you can easily imagine yourself doing the same thing centuries ago: strolling through the market. On a nice day, be sure to find a chair at many of the nearby cafes to order a fresh mint tea (verse muntthee) or a beer. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of the weekend markets. There’s often an open market in the middle of the Grote Markt square. Depending on the day, you can find organic produce, secondhand goods, or fabric. Check the schedule here.
Bookstore H. de Vries Books
This charming bookstore, known as one of the prettiest ones in Haarlem has a lovely wood interior and a nice book selection in English. It’s a great place to sit for a while and you might be surprised what you find. If you’re a bookstore lover, I also recommend visiting Selexyz in Maastricht and Waanders in de Broeren in Zwolle.
Museum Corrie Ten Boomhuis
Although most people outside of the Netherlands know the story of Anne Frank, the story of Corrie Ten Boom is one of the most famous in the Netherlands. The story of the Ten Boom family is that they were jewelers who ran a small shop in the center of Haarlem. During the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, they helped hide Jews as well as smuggle Jews out of the country. Most of the family passed away after being betrayed, however one of them survived to tell the incredible story of their non-violent resistance against the Nazis. You can see the house as well as where they hid people on an organized tour, but check the hours carefully. At minimum, pass the exterior.
You have countless decent food options in Haarlem. For a cheaper meal, I recommend heading to SLA for vegan-friendly salads on a budget. For something a bit classier, head to Specktakel Wereldse Keuken for an inspired meal with diverse food from all over the world (make a reservation ahead). Alternatively, Jetties is a modern informal organic kitchen with decent burgers and sandwiches that are well-priced.
End the evening at the Jopenkerk or Uiltje
The Jopenkerk is a former church turned brewery. This local brewery marks the resurrection of the proud Haarlem beer making tradition that goes back to medieval times. The beer at the Jopenkerk is local although they import beer from all over the Netherlands, so you’ll struggle to decide. Be warned that it can be quite busy on the weekends, so you’ll need to stake out a seat carefully.
For a quieter experience, head to Uiltje Bar, a local Haarlem craft brewery, with fantastic beer. If you’re looking for a quieter tasting experience, you can visit their taproom to sample some of their beers.
Where to stay in Haarlem
Haarlem has a lot of affordable hotel and hostels, so if you’re looking to save money while visiting Amsterdam, Haarlem is a great option. For those on a budget, I’ve heard great things about the Stayokay hostel in Haarlem. For something mid-range, consider booking Joops in the heart of the city center. My parents stayed at the 4* Hotel Lion d’Or Haarlem. My dad wanted to originally stay in Amsterdam, but he ended up falling in love with Haarlem and actually preferred it to Amsterdam.
Other things to do in Haarlem
Frans Hals Museum
One of the most popular things to do in Haarlem is to visit the Frans Hal Museum. If you’re into the Dutch Golden Age, you’ll want to visit this museum with some of his religious works. You can see some of his paintings in the Teyler Museum actually.
Visit the nearby dunes or beach
Take the bus/train or rent a bike to visit the dunes in Zandvoort On a nice day in summer, everyone is running towards the beach to soak up the sun and walk along the boardwalk. Be sure to have some fresh haring and maybe take a walk in the Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland. Compared to many places, the Netherlands is very flat, so the dunes are something that a lot of people love to see in Haarlem. For visitors from more hilly places, maybe skip the dunes. 😉
Take the bus to Lisse to see the tulip fields or Keukenhof
You don’t need to go to Keukenhof to see the tulips in the Netherlands. From Haarlem, you can do a half day in the city and a half city exploring the tulip fields. You can follow my instructions on how to see the tulip fields in the Netherlands for free.
Board game cafe: The Boardroom
I brought my parents to this cozy board game in Haarlem while visiting. For only five euros per person, you can play unlimited games, so arrive early to take advantage of it! They also offer nice tea, beer, as well as snacks. If you’re not into going out on a weekend, I definitely recommend checking out the Boardroom for some fun. (They’re open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.) Even if you’re not a board game person, they have games suitable for every taste and the staff is happy to explain the games to you if needed. It’s the first dedicated board game cafe in the Netherlands!
Your map of what to do in Haarlem
Have you been to Haarlem? Any other things to do in Haarlem that you’d recommend to a visitor?
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